The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1962
1962 is just one of those years. One of those years where, they did make the perfect decision, and yet — you just want them to have gone with something else. Lawrence of Arabia wins Best Picture, and who can blame them? The film is perfect. It’s a quintessential Best Picture film. It’s just — To Kill a Mockingbird was also up this year. And sentimentally — I love that film and I root for it. So while it wasn’t a bad decision (historically it’s an amazing decision) — I still do love To Kill a Mockingbird.
Best Actor this year was Gregory Peck for Mockingbird, and honestly, who can fault that one? It’s Atticus Fucking Finch. Best Actress this year was Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker, and Best Supporting Actress was Patty Duke, also for The Miracle Worker. Both were fantastic decisions. If you’ve seen the film — and you should — you’ll understand why both won. Especially Duke. And that’s coming from someone who really wanted to vote for Mary Badham as Scout Finch. The only decision this year I really disagree with is Best Supporting Actor, which Ed Begley (senior, not junior) won for Sweet Bird of Youth. I personally would have given it to Omar Sharif or Telly Savalas. But, with 5 out of 6 great decisions, it’s fine. The year is just incredible. I wish years could be even mostly as good as this one was, Oscar-wise. That’s without even mentioning how stacked this individual category is.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1962
And the nominees were…
Pietro Germi, Divorce, Italian Style
David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia
Robert Mulligan, To Kill a Mockingbird
Arthur Penn, The Miracle Worker
Frank Perry, David and Lisa
Germi — This, honestly, is the only nominee in this category that I disagree with. Not that I didn’t like the film, it’s just — I don’t know, I don’t really like the nomination. I’m sure those who love the film will disagree with me, but, Blake Edwards directed Days of Wine and Roses this year, Stanley Kubrick directed Lolita, John Frankenheimer directed The Manchurian Candidate — there were other choices, is all I’m saying.
The film is about Marcello Mastroianni as an Italian nobleman who is unhappily married. He hates his wife. She’s ugly, fat, has disgusting habits — he isn’t happy. The problem is, divorce is illegal in Italy (at the time). So, he can’t divorce her and be with his mistress (who is also his cousin). And basically the film is a farce about him trying to arrange it so he can catch his wife sleeping with another man, so that way he can kill her and it can be called an “honor killing” and he can get away with it. And of course, things don’t go as planned.
It’s pretty good, I guess. I just wouldn’t have nominated it here. That’s really all I have to say about it. It’s clearly a #5 on this list. At best a #4, and that’s if you really like it. I don’t think anyone can rank this higher than fourth.
Lean — It’s Lawrence of Arabia. This is an open and shut case.
If you don’t know — and you absolutely should. This film is long, but it’s perfect. And if you ever get the chance, as I did, see it in 70mm. Holy shit, this film is gorgeous — it’s about T.E. Lawrence, a British soldier who is sent to analyze a band of Arab rebels in their fight against the Turks. The group is led by Prince Faisal, played by Alec Guinness, and Lawrence goes out there mostly to see what their chances are at winning. And instead of doing his job, he slowly becomes one of them. He helps them plan a surprise raid on a city by crossing a desert that would kill most people, and basically helps them fight a guerilla war. And eventually they take Damascus, but are unequipped to set up a government and eventually Lawrence is taken off the assignment.
It’s a perfect film. Just watching this film, within the first thirty minutes, you go, “this isn’t even a contest.” I love To Kill a Mockingbird to death, but no one should have won this award but David Lean. He outdid his direction on Bridge on the River Kwai, which is saying something.
Mulligan — God, I love To Kill a Mockingbird. I refuse to say anything about it because I refuse to believe anyone hasn’t seen it.
This film is easily my favorite on this list, but, no one should have won but David Lean. I don’t even hesitate on that, and Mockingbird is probably in my top 20 favorite films of all time.
Penn — The Miracle Worker is about Annie Sullivan going and teaching Helen Keller to communicate. That’s the film. I refuse to tell you anything more because you need to see it. It’s brilliant. And it was directed by Arthur Penn, who also directed Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, Alice’s Restaurant, Night Moves, The Missouri Breaks — just a great, great director. The man really should have won one of these and never did. And it’s a shame, because, he can be no better than third for me here. Maybe second, looking at things purely objectively, but, when To Kill a Mockingbird is involved, that can never happen. So he’s no better than a three for me. Which sucks. But, still — this category is so strong, this just had to happen.
Perry — How’s this for an intro? Frank Perry is the uncle of Katy Perry. He was known for making smaller, independent films. But, based on his resume, this man directed some great shit. Definitely one of the more underrated directors out there.
This was his first film, and I’ll get to it in a second. His second film was called Ladybug Ladybug, which I know nothing about, but kind of want to see now that I read a synopsis. It’s about a group of students hearing about an imminent nuclear attack, and them discussing whether they think it’s real or not. It sounds like the entire film takes place in one classroom over 80 minutes. And if that’s the case, I definitely want to see this. It sounds amazing. His third film was The Swimmer, which is about Burt Lancaster, who discovers that there are enough pools in his neighborhood that he can literally go from backyard to backyard and swim home. And he goes in everybody’s pool and then stops and chats with them along the way. Holy shit, this sounds fucking amazing. I need to see this right now.
His fourth film was Last Summer, which was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for 1969. So I’ll talk about it more there. But let me just say now — it’s fucking great. It’s just a brilliant film. It features a young Barbara Hershey and Bruce Davison, and also features a brilliant performance by Catherine Burns. I mean, she was really good enough to win that year, she was that good. This film is just — great. Anyway, after that, he directed Diary of a Mad Housewife, which is also a really good film that Carrie Snodgress was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for. It’s about an unhappy housewife who has an affair, and it’s just — great.
He also directed a movie called Play It As It Lays, which is about an actress who has a breakdown and relives the events that led to that breakdown. I haven’t seen it, but from the sound of it, it sounds like this has the potential to have been a Best Actress nominee in a year that was really, really weak in that category. It’s based on a Joan Didion book too. Need to see that as well. He also directed Man on a Swing, which is about a police chief investigating a murder who accepts help from a man who says he’s a psychic. And once the psychic starts telling him information that was previously only known by the police, the chief starts thinking he had something to do with the crime. Sounds interesting.
He also directed a film called Rancho Deluxe, which is about two drifters who try to rustle cattle and not get caught. And if you’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound that great” — the two drifters are Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston. Slim Pickens and Harry Dean Stanton are also in it. As is Clifton James, who was sheriff Pepper in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. I really want to see this one too.
Oh yeah, he also directed a little film called Mommie Dearest. Wire hangers.
So, this man’s had quite a career. Clearly. Now let’s talk about this wonderful, wonderful film.
Keir Dullea, aka Dave from 2001: A Space Odyssey, is in a care facility because he has an illness where he flips out whenever he’s touched by another person. He believes being touched by someone could kill him. He also has a weird obsession with time. He’s David. So the Dave thing actually works out. Lisa is a girl with split personalities. One is Lisa, who can only speak in rhymes. The other is Muriel, who can’t speak but can only write. And the film is about them coming together. David starts speaking in rhymes to her and they start a relationship, dealing with each other’s illness. And that’s the film. It’s so simple and brilliant. The last scene is so perfect. I’m not gonna lie, I cried. (But don’t go by me, I cry at everything.)
This film is really perfect. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is one of those films where, if it were any other year, I’d totally look to throw Perry a vote. But honestly, here he cannot be any better than fourth. And that’s simply because we have, ahead of him, Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Miracle Worker, about as tough a set of competition as you can possibly have. And even if you think he could be third, The Miracle Worker was directed by Arthur Penn, and he really should have won one of these. That’s why Perry can only be fourth. Which is a shame, because this film is so fucking incredible.
My Thoughts: David Lean wins this by a mile. It’s not even close. Come on, now.
My Vote: Lean
Should Have Won: Lean
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. Probably a Top Five decision of all time. I love Mockingbird more as a film, but, I know that if it won this category instead, it wouldn’t have been as acceptable, even though Lean had won before. The direction is so good, he just had to win.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen To Kill a Mockingbird, you’re dead to me. If you haven’t seen Lawrence of Arabia, you totally should. In 70 mm, if you get the chance. It’s incredible. I guarantee you that you could sit through this entire film if it were shown in 70 mm. Also, The Miracle Worker is an amazing film. I highly recommend it. And, since it’s Helen Keller, you must see it. Because it’s incredible, and it’s kind of like The Diary of Anne Frank. You need to see it, or else you’re a terrible person. Also, David and Lisa is a fucking great film. I loved it to death. Definitely not for everybody, but it really is fantastic. The characters are just so great. This is a nice little gem just waiting to be discovered. I went on this Quest to mine gems like this. You should definitely check it out.